TIME

MRI Scans Can Detect Early Onset of Parkinson’s, Study Finds

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A new scanning technique has detected the earliest stages of Parkinson's disease in the brain, before its symptoms become apparent in the body

Oxford University researchers say that by simply having a patient hold still in an MRI scanner, they can detect the early onset of Parkinson’s disease.

The new technique, called “resting state fMRI,” allows researchers to scan neural connections in the basal ganglia part of the brain, where Parkinson’s patients tend to suffer marked declines in connectivity. Researchers found that by using a certain threshold of connectivity, they could predict the onset of Parkinson’s in 11 out of 13 patients, or with 85% accuracy.

“We are excited that this MRI technique might prove to be a good marker for the earliest signs of Parkinson’s,” lead researcher Clare Mackay said. “The results are very promising.”

The researchers say early detection could pave the way for new, preventative treatments to the degenerative disorder. There is no known cure to Parkinson’s disease, though there are treatments that can suppress symptoms including tremors, stiffening muscles and impaired movement.

The results were published Wednesday in the current issue of Neurology.

TIME Developmental Disorders

The Lifetime Cost of Autism Tops $2 Million per Person

In addition to medical costs, autism takes a financial toll in hidden ways as well, according to the latest tally

U.S. and U.K. scientists have completed the most comprehensive analysis of the costs associated with supporting a child with an autism-spectrum disorder (ASD) over a lifetime and found that those whose ASD is linked with intellectual disability can accrue up to $2.4 million while those without intellectual disability require about $1.4 million in medical, nonmedical and indirect costs. And that’s on top of the average $241,000 that it takes to raise a child to age 18 in the U.S.

(MORE: Using Movement to Diagnose and Treat Autism)

About 79% of that cost is due to services such as medical care, home health care, special education and after-school care — and 9% is due to wages that caregivers give up to tend to an autistic family member. The latter came as a surprise, says the paper’s senior author, David Mandell, director of the Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research at the University of Pennsylvania, who points out that not enough of the debate about autism’s toll includes consideration of the indirect consequences of the condition. But, he says, “I think these costs are avoidable by having much better, comprehensive intervention systems and workplace policies that are much friendlier to families with children with disabilities.”

These estimates, published in JAMA Pediatrics, are higher than previous ones, and highlight how diverse the costs of autism can be, from the more obvious medical fees to the hidden economic, social and even less tangible psychological ones.

(MORE: Behavior Therapy Normalizes Brains of Autistic Children)

By comparison, here is how the lifetime cost of autism compares with costs for other conditions (note that figures come from different studies published with data from different years and have been adjusted for inflation. They are for general comparison only).

Lifetime cost
Raising child to age 18 years $241,080
Raising child with ADHD + $1,291,000
Raising child with Down syndrome
+ $533,000
Raising child with asthma + $26,000
Raising obese child
+ $19,000 (medical only)

Sources: USDA, Journal of Pediatric Psychology, EPA, Partnership for America’s Success, Pediatrics

TIME Developmental Disorders

Michigan Teen Carries Brother 40 Miles for Cerebral Palsy Awareness

Brotherly Walk
Braden Gandee, 7, rides on the back of his brother Hunter, 14, as they close in on the final miles to the University of Michigan's Bahna Wrestling Center on Sunday, June 8, 2014. Hunter carried Braden, who has cerebral palsy, 40 miles from Temperance, Mich., to Ann Arbor. Chris Asadian—AP Photo

Valiant 14-year-old Hunter Gandee carried his 7-year-old brother Braden strapped on his back for 30 hours to urge engineers to invest in innovative tools for increased mobility

A Michigan teen trekked 40 miles with his 7-year-old brother on his back to raise awareness of cerebral palsy, the cerebellar degenerative disorder that prevents his sibling from walking himself.

Hunter Gandee, 14, braved blustery conditions during the two-day hike from his hometown of Temperance, Mich., to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. His brother Braden has struggled with cerebral palsy his entire life. Hunter told ABC that although he wrestles in 100-degree conditions at Bedford Junior High, “it’s nowhere near how hard Braden works.”

The teenager originally concocted the idea after raising $350 in green wristbands for cerebral palsy awareness month at his school. Afterward he wanted his efforts to reach beyond his classmates. “We want kids to understand Braden,” Hunter told MLive.

He was further inspired by a dream that his mother had of him carrying Braden to Mackinac, Mich., where the family had often vacationed. This led to two months of preparation for carrying his 50-lb. brother on his back.

The courageous duo were joined by other family members for the final portion of the journey, which nearly ended early because Braden’s legs were badly chafing. But after a brief rest-stop and repositioning Braden, the brothers completed the mission in 30 hours.

“We pushed through it,” an exhausted Hunter told ABC. “And we’re here.”

On the walk’s Facebook page, the Gandees express hope that the walk will earn the attention of engineers and doctors for “the need for innovative ideas in mobility aids and medical procedures.”

TIME Environmental Health

Children Exposed to More Brain-Harming Chemicals Than Ever Before

A new report finds the number of chemicals contributing to brain disorders in children has doubled since 2006

In recent years, the prevalence of developmental disorders such as autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia have soared. While greater awareness and more sophisticated diagnoses are partly responsible for the rise, researchers say the changing environment in which youngsters grow up may also be playing a role.

In 2006, scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai identified five industrial chemicals responsible for causing harm to the brain — lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (found in electric transformers, motors and capacitors), arsenic (found in soil and water as well as in wood preservatives and pesticides) and toluene (used in processing gasoline as well as in paint thinner, fingernail polish and leather tanning). Exposure to these neurotoxins was associated with changes in neuron development in the fetus as well as among infants, and with lower school performance, delinquent behavior, neurological abnormalities and reduced IQ in school-age children.

(MORE: A Link Between Pesticides and Attention Disorders?)

Now the same researchers have reviewed the literature and found six additional industrial chemicals that can hamper normal brain development. These are manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene and polybrominated diphenyl ethers. Manganese, they say, is found in drinking water and can contribute to lower math scores and heightened hyperactivity, while exposure to high levels of fluoride from drinking water can contribute to a seven-point drop in IQ on average. The remaining chemicals, which are found in solvents and pesticides, have been linked to deficits in social development and increased aggressive behaviors.

The research team acknowledges that there isn’t a causal connection between exposure to any single chemical and behavioral or neurological problems — it’s too challenging to isolate the effects of each chemical to come to such conclusions. But they say the growing body of research that is finding links between higher levels of these chemicals in expectant mothers’ blood and urine and brain disorders in their children should raise alarms about how damaging these chemicals can be. The developing brain in particular, they say, is vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals, and in many cases, the changes they trigger are permanent.

“The consequence of such brain damage is impaired [central nervous system] function that lasts a lifetime and might result in reduced intelligence, as expressed in terms of lost IQ points, or disruption in behavior,” they write in their report, which was published in the journal Lancet Neurology.

They point to two barriers to protecting children from such exposures — not enough testing of industrial chemicals and their potential effect on brain development before they are put into widespread use, and the enormous amount of proof that regulatory agencies require in order to put restrictions or limitations on chemicals. Most control of such substances, they note, occurs after negative effects are found among adults; in children, the damage may be more subtle, in the form of lower IQ scores or hyperactivity, that might not be considered pathological or dangerous. “Our very great concern is that children worldwide are being exposed to unrecognized toxic chemicals that are silently eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviors, truncating future achievements and damaging societies, perhaps most seriously in developing countries,” they write. “A new framework of action is needed.”

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